Cleaning and Maintaining your Bodum Santos / Utopia Vac Pot

The Starbucks Utopia brewer was released later as the Bodum Santos. This article was written in 2002 when the Utopia was release, but the tips also apply to the Bodum Santos brewer.

The Utopia vac pot brewing system is made of plastic and has built-in electrical components, so cleaning and maintaining it is not as easy as maintaining other coffee equipment, such as the French Press. And one mistake can cause you to have to spend more time cleaning down the line. This article will walk you step-by-step through the proper cleaning process. Additionally, this article includes tips and tricks for successful Utopia use and enjoyment.

utopia before cleaning
Utopia Vac Pot before cleaning

Utopia Vac pot after cleaning
Utopia Vac pot after cleaning

What you need in order to clean

  • a soft cloth
  • a chopstick
  • a bottle brush
    or flex-head toothbrush
  • baking soda
  • 409 (or similar cleaner)

What you should avoid

The biggest mistake that you can make with the Utopia is to use harsh cleaning tools. Do not, under any circumstances, use one of those sponges with the abrasive side. Scrubby sponges scratch the plastic and leave it cloudy. Once the plastic is scratched, more oils will build up and you’ll just have to clean it more and more often.

The Name Game

The key to understanding this article is understanding the names of the parts of the Utopia.

Utopia parts
Utopia Vac Pot Equipment

  1. Basket Lid
  2. Coffee Filter Basket
  3. Filter
  4. Arm Rest
  5. Base
  6. Heating Element
  7. Coffee Pot
  8. Coffee Pot Lid

Step #1 – Rinse and Begin

Rinse all remaining coffee out of the pot and the coffee filter basket (top chamber). Disassemble the coffee pot lid. Disassemble the arm rest (for the coffee filter basket) on the base. Remove the coffee filter and place it in a bowl with warm water and about a tablespoon of baking soda. Agitate the water occasionally and let it soak while you clean the rest of the equipment.

soak filter
Soak the Utopia filter

Step #2 – Clean the Heating Element

At the base of the pot, there is a heating element. The fact that it is connected to the pot is the reason why you can’t put the pot in the dishwasher. But the thing gets dirty over time and has burnt coffee on it. How do you get it clean? A thick paste of baking soda and some elbow grease. Mix up a paste of baking soda in a bowl to the side. Then use a bottle brush or a flex-head toothbrush to apply the paste, and use the bristles to scrub the bottom concurrently. If you can’t get all of it, just do what you can and let the baking soda break up the rest of the oil by setting the pot to the side.

Step #3 – Clean the Coffee Filter Basket

Shake a little bit of baking soda on your wet cloth. Use the chopstick and the baking-soda-laden cloth to clean the tube. Rinse the cloth, then apply more baking soda. Make sure that the baking soda dissolves on the cloth. Undissolved baking soda will scratch, which is what you want to avoid doing to the plastic. Vigorously wipe the inside of the basket with the cloth. Use the toothbrush to clean between the plastic teeth on the lid.

Cleaning filter basket
Cleaning filter basket.

Step #4 – Clean the Base and Lid

Wipe the base of the Utopia with 409 and a dry cloth. Use the toothbrush and baking soda to clean the arm rest. If the coffee is really caked in there, soak the arm rest in the same bowl as the coffee filter.

Step #5 – Clean the Coffee Pot

Once you’ve rinsed the baking soda paste from the heating element, use the soft cloth and baking soda to clean the inside of the pot. Use the chopstick to guide the cloth around the sides and clean the pot. The baking soda does an excellent job of cleaning the pot, without the suds and aftertaste associated with soap.

Wipe the Utopia Vac Pot
Wipe the Utopia Vac Pot.

Step #6 – Run a Water Cycle

Rinse and reassemble all of the pieces. Run a clear water cycle with no coffee. This might produce a few rattling sounds (the filter is usually weighed down by coffee).

Water rinse Utopia Vac Pot
Water rinse Utopia Vac Pot

Between major cleanings, rinse the Utopia and use only a soft cloth to wipe it down.

Additional Utopia Tips

Here are some things that might help you with your Utopia. These are fairly disconnected tips, but they’ve been suggested from various sources for inclusion in this article.

Stopped mid-brew

If your Utopia stops mid-brew, you’ll have to throw out the pot of coffee and start again. It tastes horrible when it double-brews. Turn over the base of the Utopia and, if you haven’t removed it already, you’ll see a clear plastic ring that goes around the base. This ring is supposed to keep the base from sliding around on your counter. The problem with it is that it can get displaced and cause the sensors in the base of the Utopia to miscalculate. This can sometimes cause incomplete brew cycles and double brews. Starbucks recommends the removal if you have this type of problem.

plastic ring
Plastic ring around the base

Coffee is Clumping and Not making Full Contact With Water

Occasionally, the water rises up from the pot but seems not to mix with the coffee. Meanwhile, the coffee basically sits in a big blob along the side of the basket. If this happens, remove the lid from the basket, careful not to break the seal that the basket has with the pot. Use a knife or spoon to gently mix the coffee with the water.

Coffee Tastes Weak

  1. Make sure that you’re brewing a full pot. The Utopia works best when running at full capacity.
  2. Try a slightly finer grind, but don’t go all the way to the espresso grind or your filter won’t be able to handle the extra work.
  3. Vac Pot coffee has more clarity than French Press, so it may taste a little ‘weaker’ by virtue of the fact that more oils and sediments have been filtered out.

Broken Filter

Apparently, there were some problems with the first batch of filters. So if your filter breaks, call Starbucks (1-800-Starbucks) and they’ll replace the first one for free. I’ve had my first filter as long as I’ve had the vac pot, but quite a few other people have had problems. I’m also beginning to see some Utopia filters for sale in my local Starbucks stores. Strangely however, they’re not selling them online. My advice: complain to Starbucks and see if you can get a replacement for free. You probably will.

Final Thoughts

To date, I’ve made hundreds of pots of coffee with my vac pot. The vast majority of them have gone smootly, but occassionally I’ve had to throw out a pot. It’s great for guests, who love to watch the spectacle, and it’s perfect for people who aren’t accustomed to French Press coffee. Plus, I love that this vac pot is easy to clean up and the fact that I get more consistent results with the Utopia than I do with other vac pot brands. I hope that you enjoy your Utopia as much as I’ve enjoyed mine.

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Lura Lee

Founding member of INeedCoffee, Lura Lee, contributed content for a while, then stepped away.She came up with the original tagline "Caffeination Information." Now she enjoys coffee, but no longer pursues coffee as a hobby. You can find her entrepreneurial efforts elsewhere on the web and in B-2-B circles.

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